Hey, y’all, and welcome to Southern Macabre! I’m Aeryn and I’m so glad that you could join me for True Crime Friday. Today we’re going to talk about the victims, and possible victims, of a southern serial killer. You may remember I mentioned one of his possible victims two weeks ago. If not, that’s fine because I’m going to talk about her again today.
The National Park Killer was Gary Michael Hilton. He was born November 22, 1946 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was arrested January 5, 2008 and is currently waiting to be put to death in Florida for his crimes. He was sentenced to life in prison in North Carolina and Georgia.
As I said, he was born in Atlanta, Georgia and the earliest account we have of him is when he was thirteen and he shot his stepfather, Nilo DeBag, in the abdomen. I triple checked that that was his real name cause I wasn’t familiar with it in that sense.
Anyway, Hilton was sent to a mental institution when his stepdad didn’t press charges. Understandably, his mom didn’t want him in the house when he got out so he went to live with Dawn and Mark Jeffers. I think they were foster parents, but I couldn’t find anything to confirm or deny it.
When he was about seventeen years old he enlisted in the Army where he got his GED. Different sources say different things. One says he was a paratrooper while another says he was part of a small group in charge of a specialized missile that would kill all of them if it was ever used. Either way, it was during his Army career that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted to a military mental hospital. Afterwards he was honorably discharged.
Between his discharge and 2008, he was arrested for drugs, theft, possession of a firearm without a license, and DUIs, but never served time. He also got married, and divorced, three times. He was arrested in 2008, bringing his killing days to an end.
Hilton had a higher-than-average IQ of 120, and he either had attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Different sources say different things, but he was on Ritalin for the disorder. For those who are not familiar, ADD is often classified as the inability to focus, but most people with it actually hyperfocus. We’re the best multitaskers you will ever see. ADHD is like ADD, except you tend to be more energetic. You might drum your fingers on the table or tap your foot while listening to a lecture, as an example.
I’m bringing these things up because they were a part of Hilton, but he didn’t commit these crimes because of this disorder or even because of the Ritalin. His untreated schizophrenia may have played a part, but he has never blamed that. I haven’t found anything where he has ever said why he did what he did, but maybe it doesn’t really matter. I know a lot of people are interested in the psychology behind serial killers, or there wouldn’t be so many documentaries about it.
Hilton’s first victim was Rossana Miliani. She had traveled from Miami, Florida to Cherokee, North Carolina on vacation in December 2005. She was 29 years old at that time.
She spoke of hiking the Appalachian Trail and spoke to her father that day. She then went to Bryson City, North Carolina where she rented a small storage unit.
In 2009, a store clerk saw an article about Rossana and remembered selling her a backpack around the time she disappeared. She remembered seeing a man appearing to be in his sixties with her and she appeared nervous. Hilton told the store clerk that he was a traveling preacher, which is what made him memorable to her.
Hilton resembles the sketch a private investigator made and according to Murderpedia.org, Hilton admitted to beating Rossana to death. Police have evidence that he used her debit card after she went missing.
Unfortunately, Rossana’s body has never been found.
On December 1, 2006, Hilton came across 46-year-old Cheryl Dunlap reading beside her car near Leon Sinks, Florida. She was a nurse and a Sunday school teacher. She was reported missing the next day when she didn’t arrive at church to teach her class, something she never would have done.
He used her ATM card on December 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, withdrawing money each time. This told detectives that the masked man knew Ms. Cheryl’s pin number.
Her body was found in Apalachicola National Forest by hunters about two weeks later. She had been decapitated.
On October 21, 2007, 80-year-old John Bryant and his 84-year-old wife, Brenda, went hiking in Pisgah National Forest located in western North Carolina. The couple were avid hikers living in Horse Shoe, North Carolina, about ten miles away. They parked their maroon Ford Escape at Yellow Gap Road near US-276.
Their family members reported them missing after not hearing from them for two weeks. A search party was organized and police gained access to the couple’s cellphone records. Irene had tried to call 911 the day the couple went missing.
The search party located a woman’s body covered with leaves on November 10th. She was found on the Barnett Branch Trail. Suspecting it may be Irene, they sent her body to Chapel Hill where it was determined that she was Irene and she had been bludgeoned to death with a blunt instrument. Since this was now considered a homicide carried out on federal land, the case was handed over to the FBI. They quickly offered a $10,000 reward.
At the same time, the Bryant’s debit card was used to remove $300 from an ATM in Ducktown, Tennessee. Ducktown is about 130 miles from Pisgah National Forest. The surveillance cameras at the ATM showed an older man wearing a rain jacket obscuring his face. John was still considered a missing person, possibly kidnapped by his wife’s murderer.
On February 3, 2008, a hunter accidentally discovered a skull in Nantahala National Forest. It’s between Pisgah National Forest and Ducktown. After calling the local deputies, they found a spine and pelvis about twenty yards away. They would later be identified as the remains of John Bryant.
I’m going to mention Michael Scot Louis, but I don’t think he was killed by Hilton. A fisherman discovered Michael’s dismembered, decapitated body on November 21, 2007 at Tomoka State Park near Ormond Beach, Florida. Hilton was deemed innocent because of DNA according to a source I will link below.
I think his girlfriend, Nelci Tetley, is a more likely suspect because about eleven years later she did the same thing to another boyfriend. She was arrested and charged with murder when she allegedly cut up her 55-year-old boyfriend, Jeffrey Albertsman. She left his head and torso in his house to be discovered by his friends who called law enforcement.
Both men had similar cuts and stab wounds on their bodies.
On New Year’s Day of 2008, 24-year-old Meredith Hope Emerson arrived at the entrance of Blood Mountain in Georgia. She lived in Buford, Georgia. Meredith grew up in Colorado and loved to hike, so she was experienced. Unfortunately, there was no way for her to know Hilton was camping at Blood Mountain.
Multiple hikers saw Meredith and her dog, Ella, walking with Hilton and his dog. One source said that she was trained in martial arts and fought Hilton for as long as she could. Unfortunately, he was trained in hand-to-hand combat and was able to subdue her.
Hiker, Seth Blankenship, stumbled upon the crime scene where Hilton tried to abduct her. There were two water bottles, dog treats, a silver hair barrette, sunglasses, and a police baton.
Once Hilton had Meredith captive, he demanded her banking pin number many times. She gave him the wrong number every time, prolonging her murder. Three days passed where Hilton attempted to withdraw funds using her debit card, but each time he was unsuccessful.
Hilton claimed that she fought him for four days before he finally killed and decapitated her.
At this time, Hilton attempted to get cash from his contacts, including his former employer, John Taber. He threatened to kill Mr. John if he didn’t give him $10,000 so Mr. John called police. Other sources say Mr. John had seen the news, which is what prompted him to call. He described Hilton and his 2001 Chevy Astro van to them. Police traced the call to a Huddle House in Marble Hill, almost sixty miles from Blood Mountain.
Soon the local news featured Meredith’s abduction and a good Samaritan called in stating that they had seen Hilton and his van at a gas station. He was throwing away evidence when police arrived.
I know my fellow animal lovers are wondering about Ella, Meredith’s dog. He turned her loose and she was found in a Kroger parking lot. After murdering Meredith, he couldn’t bring himself to kill her dog, too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he didn’t hurt the dog, but it strikes me as odd when he didn’t have any regard for human life.
I don’t think Hilton started killing people at the age of 59 years old, I think that’s when the first murder occurred with enough evidence to convict him. He was a drifter who spent a lot of time in the national parks after he was discharged from the Army. Many in law enforcement also think he started much earlier, but stopped covering his tracks as he got older.
If he did commit other crimes, I hope he confesses before he runs out of time. I find it interesting, and suspicious, that in 1995 he produced a movie called Deadly Run. It’s about a Georgia man who abducts attractive females and flies them to a secluded cabin. Once there, he releases them into the woods where he hunts them and murders them.
It’s not exactly his MO, but it’s close enough that it makes one wonder.
I want to thank each and every one of you for listening today. If you’re interested in true crime and the paranormal then you have come to the right place. I talk about true crime every Monday and Friday. Wednesdays are strictly paranormal stories. Be sure to tune in on February 2nd because my son and I are going to tell you about a haunted trailer we used to live in.
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